The maker of a smartphone app that could surreptitiously monitor calls, texts, and videos on mobile phones was indicted in Virginia for allegedly conspiring to advertise and sell the spyware application.
Hammad Akbar, the chief executive officer of Pakistan-based InvoCode Pvt Ltd, the company that advertised and sold StealthGenie online, was arrested in Los Angeles Saturday, September 27. The 31-year-old Pakistani man was charged with conspiracy and sale of a surreptitious interception device. StealthGenie spyware could intercept communications to and from mobile phones and was marketed as largely undetectable and untraceable.
In announcing the charges, officials said the spyware technology could be employed to invade the privacy of unwitting victims. Purchasers of the app would need only a few minutes to download and install it on a victim’s mobile phone for full access to the phone’s communication functions.
“This application allegedly equips potential stalkers and criminals with a means to invade an individual’s confidential communications,” said Andrew McCabe, assistant director of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, which is investigating the case. “They do this not by breaking into their homes or offices, but by physically installing spyware on unwitting victims’ phones and illegally tracking an individual’s every move.”
StealthGenie’s capabilities included recording and intercepting calls and monitoring e-mails, text messages, voicemails, photos, videos, and calendar appointments. The software could also activate a victim’s phone to eavesdrop on conversations within a 15-foot radius. All the communications could be viewed on a web-based dashboard.
The spyware technology was hosted at a data center in Ashburn, Virginia. The FBI temporarily disabled StealthGenie’s website following a federal restraining order issued Friday, September 26.
This is the first-ever criminal case concerning the advertisement and sale of a mobile device spyware app. Marketing for the app targeted people suspicious that their spouses or romantic partners might be cheating on them.
“Apps like StealthGenie are expressly designed for use by stalkers and domestic abusers who want to know every detail of a victim’s life—all without the victim’s knowledge,” said Leslie Caldwell, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
Determining if your phone contains the spyware can be difficult—the spyware app could be installed to look like another app or file. Possible options include enlisting other apps—or private computer forensics companies—to scan your mobile device for malicious software. In a public service announcement about StealthGenie, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complain Center (IC3) said the best option for people concerned that their mobile phones contain the spyware would be to conduct a “factory reset” of the device, which removes all data and apps and restores the mobile phone to its original condition. Be sure to first back-up the data you want to save.
FBI press release